Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
State policymakers are trying to push water conservation without fearmongering.
California is easing its hardline stance on urban water policy as it seeks to make a conservation a normal way of life, the L.A. Times reported Monday.
Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that requires local water suppliers to continue reporting their monthly usage to the state, and to set up long-term contingency plans. The order also permanently bans explicitly wasteful practices such as hosing down driveways and sidewalks, and watering lawns to the point of excess runoff. Ensuring that the state is prepared for a drier future is the key.
At the same time, top regulators at the State Water Resources Control Board are considering proposed revisions to the staunch emergency drought rules—namely, a 25 percent statewide water-use reduction—which Brown mandated last year. Based on their ability to meet demand in coming dry years, communities might be allowed more to use more flexible conservation targets, or even drop them entirely. The Board is expected to announce adjustments sometime in May.
It all adds up to a less drastic, but perhaps more sustainable approach to water consumption.
As CityLab reported in April, drought conditions in some parts of California have improved, thanks to El Niño. Key reservoirs in the northern parts of the state are fuller than they’ve been in years, and snowpack in the Sierras has recovered from last year’s record lows. This has led some communities to feel secure about their water supplies, and to call on regulators to loosen conservation requirements.
Still, this drought is not over. The order goes on to state, “California droughts are expected to be more frequent and persistent, as warmer winter temperatures driven by climate change reduce water held in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and result in drier soil conditions.” State policymakers are now navigating the tricky task of pushing conservation without scaremongering or being unnecessarily stringent.